What’s so Scary About Muslim Women?

New Orleans       For months ACORN’s affiliate in France, the Alliance Citoyenne, has been campaigning first in Grenoble and then in Lyon and other cities around the ban on the Muslim women from public spaces if they were wearing a hijab or other face, head or body-covering garments.  Direct actions where our members entered public swimming pools wearing burkinis, as they are known, attracted huge attention and international news.

Within the organization, the actions were divisive.  The board in Grenoble debated extensively whether to support the Muslim women among their membership that had brought the issue forward and asked for support.  Finally, the majority ruled to undertake the campaign.  Actively pursing the issue has meant a loss of 8% in our Grenoble membership, but the leadership and organization expresses no regret.

The ban is deeper than swimming, regardless of the record heat waves this summer in France.  In many pools young children could not enter without a parent, and if the woman was wearing covering, they were also banned.  And, that’s not the half of it.  They are also barred from public employment and other services of the state based on this mandatory acculturation and mono-cultural French obsession.

France is not alone.  Austria and the Netherlands passed similar rules, although last reports indicated that the Amsterdam police were not enforcing the public spaces ban.  Talking to our organizer from Montreal ACORN, I was disappointed to hear that Law 21 passed in July, contrary to what I had thought earlier, and is in full force with similar restrictions in Quebec, including restricting public sector employment for veiled Muslim women.  As reported in the Los Angeles Times, the…

“…controversial bill that bans many public employees in the province from wearing religious symbols at work. Teachers, judges and police officers, among other civil servants, can no longer wear Muslim headscarves (hijabs), Jewish skullcaps, Sikh turbans and other symbols of their faith in the workplace.  Even more alarming, the law also prohibits anyone wearing face coverings — Muslim women wearing niqabs (face veils) are the primary target — from receiving government services that include healthcare and using public transit.”

Unbelievable!  Of course, human rights, the United Nations, the ACLU, and other groups are responding, but in the Age of Trump, all of this is going down a very bad road.

All of which makes a recent move, reported by the New York Times, by the NBA world champion Raptors in Toronto, Ontario, Quebec’s neighboring province, even more remarkable.  Working with the Hijabi Ballers, a local organization that promotes Muslim women in sports in the city, the Raptors partnered with Nike to produce a Raptors branded hijab, claiming to be the first NBA team to be so inclusive.  Of course, 400,000 Muslims live in the greater Toronto area, but civil rights groups including the Council on American-Islamic Relations have trumpeted the move.

ACORN leaders and members are still scratching their heads in trying to understand what is so frightening about Muslim women in so many countries, but, regardless, we know where we stand.  With our members.  All of them!

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First Steps to Building Community-Labor-Political Alliances without Shortcuts

Amsterdam      It was just a first step.  ACORN had joined Ron Meyer and Lieke Smits, the principal officers of the Socialist Party Netherlands, in calling together a small group of twenty or so in the late summer who might be able to come together for a conversation on a Saturday in Amsterdam to share their experiences in trying to build a working alliance or partnership between community organizations, labor unions, and political formations or parties.  Interest was huge.  The only real obstacle was the European holiday schedule where many were already committed or unavailable, as we sent out inquires of interest.  Nonetheless, we had representatives from various organizations including France, United Kingdom, Brussels, and Holland that joined us for what turned out to be a very fruitful and intense initial conversation.

Almost like a neighborhood first organizing committee meeting, the morning introductions when groups reported on their work were peppered with questions and the excitement that comes from people realizing that others are sharing the same experiences with similar issues, and therefore are not alone.  The party representatives from France were thrilled to discover the depths of the experiences of the SP/N with community organizing.  The unions from the Netherlands and Brussels found common cause on issues from organizing – or the lack of it – to institutional and traditional restraints in the way their large organizations of were facing the challenges of declining membership and new work formations and expectations.  The community organizers with ACORN were intrigued at the similarity of methods and issues they were hearing.

Everywhere there were “learning” moments, rather than “teachable” moments.  There was no effort at consensus, but a refreshing frankness served in solidarity.  Different views on the integration of movements and organizations looked for light, rather than heat.  Explanations about cultures of compromise tried to grapple with organizing models based on conflict.  Advice given about quietly fighting within were listened to closely even as others argued for storming the barricades.

One union organizer cautioned others that “assumptions are the mother of all mess-ups,” though he used a different word.  An SP organizer critiqued a former methodology as doing “actions FOR people, rather than actions WITH people,” noting that they had moved their interactions from 90% talking to 80% listening instead.  These were organizers of course so opinions were often challenged with questions about the underlying numbers, whether there was accountability, and how tactics and methodology responded to the numbers.

The evaluations were unanimously positive.  No decisions were made.  No officers were elected.  There was only consensus on one item:  meeting again in January with everyone here and all that could not make it on such short notice.

That was enough, and it was important.

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